“A very particular feeling of nostalgia and melancholy, characteristic of a certain type of Portugueseness, permeates the city and its people, imparting a permanent yearning for an unfulfilled past. It is a city of contrasts – a constant interplay of light and shadow, young and old, hope and decay, crumbling walls and spaces waiting to be taken over. It is a place where beauty appears to lie not at the surface, but within – separated from the neglected exterior, removed yet not forgotten, cultivated for the intimacy of the few.”
– Miguel Moore –
On a balmy spring afternoon, I found myself in the uber cool café, Fauna & Flora, not far from my Airbnb apartment, trying to get my head around the new vocabulary and grammar structures of the Portuguese language. At the time, I was almost a week into my two and a half week stay in Lisbon. Immersed in a language course, I walked its streets in my free hours in search of interesting corners, and a good cup of coffee. Although my eyes were focused on the words in front of me, my ears were tuned into a conversation to my left. Instead of me eavesdropping on the chic young Portuguese, who frequent the place, it was a conversation between two middle-aged American women that captured my attention. They were discussing the advantages of basing themselves in Lisbon, the hip venues, the weather, the people, their freelance jobs, their travels. They eventually reached the conclusion, as one of them put it, that “Lisbon is more bohemian than Paris”.
It comes as no surprise then that Lisbon ranks fifth on the recently published Global Hipster Index. Created by relocation specialist, Movehub, it is in its second year, and for the first time, also includes cities outside America. It is a fun, tongue-in-cheek look at our obsession with lists and indexes, making use of five data points to create their list of hipness: vegan eateries, coffee shops, tattoo studios, vintage boutiques, and record stores.
Despite my love for funky coffee shops, which abounds in Lisbon, a quick look at the list clearly disqualifies me as being much of a ‘hipster’. As a vegetarian I did not have to go out in search of vegan restaurants, as I found a great variety of choices in the restaurants I visited in my neighbourhood. Although I hardly ever frequent vintage boutiques, I did buy a cute satin jacket in a rather quaint vintage boutique I passed daily on the way to class, which I guess could score me a point or two. Yet, I failed to notice any record stores on my daily walks, which, granted, mainly took me to quieter alleyways, and even though I vaguely recall passing two tattoo studios, having no desire to express myself in that manner, I simply admired the giant tattoos on the city’s walls, created by graffiti and street artists.
I adore street art. Mostly done on commission, or at least with permission, it often brightens tired walls in neighbourhoods that have seen more prosperous days, and can even serve as alternative advertisements. Seen by some as a gentrified form of graffiti, I love how a city’s walls can be transformed into giant canvasses for artistic expression to the delight of passersby. Lisbon’s walls not only display beautiful image-based street art, but also a jumble of word-based graffiti using tags or symbols. It mostly feels organic, raw, impulsive. Love it or hate it, it is an integral part of this multi-layered city. And as artist, PJ Sierra puts it, “. . . whether you’re a graffiti writer or a street artist, your goal is the same: To prove we existed on this earth by leaving our mark.”
Art doesn’t just adorn the walls, but one also walks on it, wherever one goes in Lisbon. The typical Portuguese pavements, or calçada portuguesa artística, is wonderfully decorative, and reminds one in a subtle way that the Roman empire once stretched all the way to this part of the world. This imaginative way of paving large squares and pavements is said to have originated in 1842 at the Saint Jorge Castle in Lisbon, when it was paved with white limestone pebbles with a zigzag pattern of black basalt stone, by its governor, Lieutenant General Candido Pinheiro Eusebio Furtado.
No matter where one goes in Lisbon, there is a constant reminder of the past, be it in the grandeur of some of its buildings, or the tiles, azulejos, which adorn both outside and inside walls, floors, and ceilings. Harking back to a time, when the Iberian Peninsula was occupied by the Moors, it has become such an integral part of Portuguese architecture and character that many of my walks were directed solely at photographing the various designs and colours.
Soaking in the soul of the city, through the soles of my feet, and noticing the exquisite in the small details, often overlooked by haste and inattention, is what I will remember Lisbon most for. No matter what you enjoy or are interested in, Lisbon will have something special just for you, if you allow her to cast her web of charms over you. Take your time to discover her pulse, and don’t just follow in the hollowed-out footsteps of the crowds.
Visited: April 2018
* The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon by Philip Graham
* The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
Want to learn Portuguese in Lisbon?
Visit Lisbon Language Café. Their courses are excellent value for money.
Great post and photos. Lisbon is definitely on my list of places to visit!
I suspect you will fall in love with the food. It has so many fantastic restaurants to choose from.
Wonderful to see some images, I remember to have seen the places myself, and others, I wish I had. A city which explains “saudade” by wandering around, and so lovable.
Indeed! I always love catching glimpses through someone else’s eyes of places I’ve visited before. And often with a wish similar to yours.
What a spectacular collection of glimpses. I love it how you look, up and down and all around. I haven’t been to Portugal at all but I know I’d love its walls and floors and street art just as much. I view street art in the same way: as a means of expression of humanity at large. As for the word ‘hipster’, thank you for explaining what all it denotes. I only knew beards until now. 😀 While beards, veganism and tattoos are not for me, all the rest I’d embrace gladly.
I am so glad I could at least give you a glimpse of Lisbon in a way you would have used to explore it yourself. I tend to avoid places that are too touristy, and instead search for the elements making up the current soul of a place. The whole idea of a “hipster index” makes me chuckle, as somehow beards also feature in what I would expect. Can’t say I saw any “hipsters” out and about. 🙂
I shared it most gladly on Facebook and a couple <3ed yet. 🙂 We should do more things for ourselves and so few do.
Jolandi I recognize several of your images…and I too love Portugal and Lisbon is a favourite city of mine…it has changed since my visit 2 years ago…so many cranes and building…I look forward to reading more of your posts ~ smiles hedy ☺️💫
I guess it has been ‘discovered’, Hedy. But despite the throngs of tourists, it still retains its charms. Lisbon is unlike any city I’ve ever visited.
Wow, what wonderful street art. I really enjoy visiting cities where good street art is of abundance. And I love the azuelos. It sounds like a happy visit. Cheers!
Ah, it was! There is so much to see and do, and never enough time.
You showed an amazing collection of art and I thank you for it. Some is really really striking.
Thank you, Greg. I love how one can discover so much beauty by simply wandering around.
A tour de force of photos, Jolandi. Especially the street art, very nice.
Ah, thank you so much. I love photographing street art.
Beautiful post and photos. Like you, I love street art. Just spent a few days wandering the streets and back alleys in Denver, Colorado’s RiNo neighborhood. The street art is incredible. You captured the city so well! Safe travels.
That sounds wonderful, Terri. I am always amazed at the skill and beauty of street art from all over the world. It says so much, not only of the cities, where they are found, but also the times we are living in.
I always thought that towns should permit rather than forbid graffiti and allow people to express themselves artistically. It might cut down on unwanted/inappropriate illustrations (perhaps). I have yet to visit Portugal but would love to go one day.
I agree, Tanja. Portugal is not just a varied and stunning destination, but the people are so friendly and welcoming, which makes it a joy to visit and explore.
What an awesome post!! I loved lisboa when i visited there 20years ago tho i do also remember the air pollution was shocking and we would head for green spaces like the botanic gardens which i remember as being wonderful too. And for yr info i spent nearly 6 weeks in a little village in the south on the coast called Zavial …v beautiful!
How you must have enjoyed your time there! I always prefer rural places far more than cities, but Lisbon is one of those lovely exceptions. I wonder how the city has changed in the last 20 years, and how much has stayed the same.
Somehow I feel like the original hipsters might frown at the idea of two middle-aged American ladies clamoring after their vibe! Pretty soon everybody will be hip and then the hipsters will have to figure out something else to be in order to stay different! I laugh, and yet I still find myself gravitating to these kinds of neighborhoods and venues just as I did in bohemian Paris or downtown NYC years ago.
I’ll bet you feel at home with those azulejos surrounding you; they remind me so much of the tile and other design patterns of Arabic origin. Finally, what a treat to be in a charming city AND studying the language; that would be a dream combo for me!
I suspect you are right, Lex. The whole hipster thing made me giggle. Hip or not, tourists and expats have discovered Lisbon and are flocking there. I was rather shocked at the amount of tourists, but thank goodness most people flock to only a couple of “must-see” places, leaving the back streets to the locals and a few curious visitors.
I am so glad I decided to kick-start my Portuguese learning in Lisbon. It was perfect, and even though it will take me a long time to just master the basics, I at least have a general idea of the grammatical structure, and can start to practise those tricky sounds that trip up the tongue.
And yes, you are right, I just adore those azulejos, reminding one of the Moorish connection and influence of long ago, no matter how faint, or how much it has been absorbed and given their own unique twist of the past.
Wonderful! I love all those tiles – the patterns and colours are fantastic! Best of luck with the language course, Jolandi xo
Great photos !! Recently one of my friend visited there, and now i know why she couldn’t stop raving about it 🙂
Thank you. So glad I could confirm to you, what your friend was raving about. Lisbon is a wonderful city to visit.
You’re welcome … hope to visit there soon 🙂
Well, you’ve sold me! Wonderful pictures and poetry as usual. 🙂
Thanks, Lani. I was pleasantly surprised and charmed by Lisbon.
Thank you, Sue.
How funny we humans are – always wanting to leave our mark. It makes me admire ephemeral artists who go against that grain. I love the graffiti samples you discovered in your Lisbon explorations. Off to “Talk to the Sea” now, as advised.
We certainly are! I think it is that knowledge that graffiti and street art, like us, will not be here forever that draws me to it. I hope that the sea will whisper her wisdom back at you.
so baie om te sien!
Beslis, Corlia. Dit is ‘n wonderlike stad.
love your photos
Thank you, Tanja.
magnificent post. ‘nif said.
I love street art. It breathes life into old, dull areas and give them a second chance. 🙂 The texture of the street and those rich blue tones of the tiles is equally fascinating. Lisbon is definitely on my list! 🙂
So do I, Cheryl. And I love how one can find the most amazing street art all over the world. Lisbon is one of those places that truly has something for everyone, and as you and your husband love walking, I think you will adore it, as it is best to discover on foot.
This is amazing collection of art! 🙂
I love it too!
You are a great photographer. Awesome post!
Thank you for your kind words. Lisbon was a joy to photograph.